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Conservation commerce at work

Posted by: Terry Blumer, ZooStore

This entry is part one in a three part series from ZooStore and retail manager Terry Blumer following his travels to Mongolia to help lead a conservation commerce workshop for local artisans, creating an eco-friendly income alternative to poaching in snow leopard habitat.

How can you make a difference in the world of conservation? By doing what we all do every day—consume! Now you might be saying to yourself, “Did I just read that correctly? I thought that one of the problems with conservation is that consumers were buying too much stuff?” Well…it depends on what we buy. Knowing what we buy, where it comes from and how it is being made is to know a product’s supply chain and when we know that, we can make informed decisions on how we spend our money on the things we buy.

Shopping for Conservation Commerce in the ZooStore. Here, a customer discovers PNG YUS coffee, grown by farmers participating in tree kangaroo conservation in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Terry Blumer/Woodland Park Zoo.

Conservation Commerce is the term we use to refer to responsible consuming where the money spent on an item will provide incremental benefits to one or more conservation efforts—be they social, ecological or direct animal conservation efforts. For example, did you know that when you buy something with a green leaf sticker at the ZooStore gift shop a portion of the proceeds will have direct impacts on both the zoo’s conservation efforts and the conservation organization we bought the merchandise from in the first place?

PNG YUS coffee, roasted and packaged by Caffe Vita and available for sale at the ZooStore and Caffe Vita locations, comes from the YUS region of Papua New Guinea where farmers are paid a fair price for coffee grown in protected tree kangaroo habitat. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

Products we sell in the ZooStore gift shop from local producers Theo Chocolates and Caffe Vita are made from ingredients that we can trace back to the origin. Caffe Vita now purchases green, shade grown coffee from the YUS Conservation Area in Papua, New Guinea. They pay the local PNG community a fair price for their coffee grown on a biological preserve that is home to endangered tree kangaroos, then roast the coffee and wholesale it to us; we sell it to you and then re-invest the money in conservation programs such as Woodland Park Zoo's Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, which helped make the YUS Conservation Area possible in the first place! Through your informed decision to purchase and consume coffee you take a personal action to make a difference in conservation.

Assortment of handcrafted items from Snow Leopard Enterprises, the Conservation Commerce program of the Snow Leopard Trust. Photo by Terry Blumer/Woodland Park Zoo.

One of our conservation Partners for Wildlife is the Seattle-based, internationally reaching Snow Leopard Trust (SLT). For the last 14 years, we have been working closely with them to sell hand-made, woolen items from Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan. These hand-crafted items are the backbone of an economic-based conservation program that has proven highly successful with the local communities in the regions where SLT carries out its efforts. The sale of these handicrafts creates for artisans a viable alternative income to poaching snow leopards.

A mother snow leopard looks after her two cubs at Woodland Park Zoo. In collaboration with the Snow Leopard Trust, the zoo supports snow leopard research and conservation in the animal's range countries of Central Asia. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

In 2003, Woodland Park Zoo was asked by the SLT to participate in a design workshop to be held in Kyrgyzstan. This was a groundbreaking event for the SLT as for the first time designers and producers from two snow leopard range countries (Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia) would be brought together with an American team to revamp the Trust’s product line. The outcome far exceeded everyone’s expectations and the product line has enjoyed continued growth in many markets providing a strong economic component to the conservation efforts of all.

A young boy shows off handcrafted items made available through Snow Leopard Enterprises. Photo courtesy of Snow Leopard Trust.

Ten years later, the Trust has put together another workshop focusing entirely on the product and producers in Mongolia. Once again, they have invited the zoo to participate and so in less than a month, I will be boarding a plane and heading west to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capitol. From there we will journey another 1,000 km to the Uvs protected area (in the heart of snow leopard habitat) where we will conduct a week-long workshop with 45-50 producers.

The zoo began participating in the planning discussions for this workshop in August of 2011. Many brainstorming discussions and meetings later, we have helped the Trust staff shape the upcoming workshop. There have been lots of discussions about objectives and outcomes as well as coming up with designs and training tools since that time. Due to challenges communicating with the nomadic producers, setting the final dates and booking tickets for the U.S. based participants has only just been finalized!

A scene from Terry Blumer's desk, preparing for his travels and the upcoming workshop. Photo by Terry Blumer/Woodland Park Zoo.

With less than a month to go, things are getting pretty exciting as we pull together the final materials for the workshop. I hope to post from the field if conditions allow so stay tuned for another entry and pictures of progress in the field!